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Patriotism – the real pride and prejudice

1 September 2012

Warning: This might be seen as a rather contentious post. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from living as a human is that one should never question anyones patriotic feelings. And I certainly don’t want to offend my small but faithful audience by being seen to mock their home country.

But (you knew there would be a ‘but’, didn’t you? Yes, I had ‘but’-face; I always do) here’s the thing: patriotism isn’t a nice thing. It’s used as a tool to blind us from logical thought. It’s used to stir up hate, start wars and persecute minorities. It’s the most potent enabler of truly horrible acts. Not money. Not religion. Patriotism.

Ok. That was not so much a warning as a sample of what’s to come. Sorry. Please read on at your own discretion.

Tribal pride

“Let go of my Book of Finnish Laws, you two-headed Russian freak of an eagle!”

We see patriotism expressed daily. In supermarkets, where our own country’s produce is naturally of a much higher quality than those of a neighbouring country. In law making and policing, where the country’s own citizens are always seen as much more civilised and less prone to crime than those dirty foreigners (I’ve mentioned this in more detail in my post Why it is time to kill off nationalism). And of course in sports, where the whole country gets so high on patriotism that after the game has ended people don’t really know what to do with themselves.

I’m not saying that I don’t get patriotism. Of course I do. It’s that sense of pride of belonging to a group of people who all share a similar outlook on life. It’s about belonging. It’s about that warm glowy feeling you get from being part of a family, a tribe. And that’s good. We should all feel like we belong somewhere; that we’re all worth something.

However, as we bask in that fuzzy glow, we might cast a glance across the borders to other nations and other people and find them also feeling all proud and glowy about their silly little countries. That fills us with a mixed sense of amusement and disdain. “What do they think they’re so proud of? Everyone knows ours is the best country in the world!”

Male aggression syndrome

Independence Day Parade in Helsinki – patriotic enough for you?**

And here’s where it gets ugly. Politicians soon realised that in order to get their own agenda through, they could distract the populus from the (usually unpopular) topics at hand by waving flags and banners. And by fueling our patriotic feelings, they could make us forget about all the details of all the boring technical issues and focus solely on the simple matter of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Add to this the violent behaviour called Male aggression syndrome, where male primates tend to work themselves up to a frenzy before heading out to raid neighbouring groups, and you’ve basically got a war on your hands. Sort of an insta-war: Just add patriotism, stir it up and serve whilst hot.

Pride and prejudice

Patriotism isn’t limited to nation states either. In every country, there’s rivalry between different parts of the country. In Sweden, the Northerners despise the Southerners for their boasting and arrogant behaviour. And the Southerners look down on the quiet and withdrawn Northerners. And the Stockholmers look down on everyone outside their great city, and everyone in the country hates the Stockholmers. And on and on. No matter how much you split up a group of people there will always be one group against another, right down to people on one side of the street not really trusting the people from the other side of the street. “Those stuck-up even-numbered pricks!”*

Aw, look at those proud vikings! Makes my heart swell.

So what’s the deal then? If patriotism is all hate and prejudice, should we stop feeling proud of who we are and the society to which we belong? Of course not. I myself get a weird tingly feeling of pride whenever someone mentions the vikings, or the warrior king Carl XII of Sweden‘s raids across Europe or the Finnish sisu during the fight against the overwhelming Soviet forces during World War II. I see that as only natural.

But I believe it imperative that we all remember that this is a feeling, not a truth. Just because we feel proud of our country, our culture and our people it doesn’t automatically follow that we’re the best. Or always right. We still neet to stop and think. Otherwise we’re nothing but emotional puppets, dancing away as someone else is pulling the strings behind the curtains. And who wants to be a puppet really?

* This is of course a quote from the very funny comedian Dara O’Briain’s show ‘Dara O’Briain talks funny’:

** As it happens the Finnish Swastika is not related to the Nazi symbol of the Third Reich, but rather the old emblem of the Finnish airforce, which was founded with the help of the Swedish aristocrat Eric von Rosen whose family crest was the old viking symbol of a blue swastika. But since the Finnish airforce abandoned the swastika in 1945, I still find it rather inconsiderate to proudly display banners like this in today’s Finland.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 September 2012 17:50

    And by fueling our patriotic feelings, they could make us forget about all the details of all the boring technical issues and focus solely on the simple matter of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

    This, absolutely.

    You know, Andreas. I think you and my husband would get along famously. I’ll have to see what I can do to get him to read your blog. I think he’d really appreciate the things you have to say and the way you say them.


  2. 1 September 2012 21:32

    Well and bravely said, Andreas. I’ve always been suspicious of nationalism myself. As an American, I’ve seen plenty of abuses of it it my own country. Thanks for another great article.


    • 1 September 2012 22:13

      Thank you, glad you liked it!

      Yes, I think it’s the same in most countries. Patriotism is like a shortcut to our limbic system, bypassing all logic.


  3. 2 September 2012 02:03

    Ooh, it’s new Andreas-post day! One of my favorite types of days!

    I love my country. It often infuriates me, but I love it. Thing is, I love all the other countries, too. I’m a very suspect patriot. I think they’re ALL awesome. They all have such awesome people and stories and history! I can see why they’re all proud of themselves, because they all have such awesome things to BE proud of!

    I love all the things. It’ll be my downfall someday.

    It’s also why I can’t understand the GO GO MERKA people. Sure, America is great. I loves me some Merka! But to love America to the exclusion of all others…that’s foolishness. And rude. (I grew up in a household of ONLY MERKA ALL THE TIME! so I know these people, unfortunately. Genetically, I am of these people.)


    • 2 September 2012 02:16

      Aw thank you! *blushes*

      Yes, it’s the exclusiveness of patriotism I find most infuriating. It’s the same with all the different religious organisations that always focus on the difference between us and them. Honestly, life is too short to go around getting all hung up on details like that.


      • 2 September 2012 02:21

        Why are you still awake, goofy? It’s the wee hours in Finland!

        The world would be a better place if everyone just realized they were not individual and special and that EVERYONE thinks they’re individual and special. And that, to some extent, everyone is. Everyone, even people who make us crazy, have awesome things about them.

        The big secret of life is, there is no us and them. We’re all us. But no one wants us to know that, because it’s easier to keep us all divided and fighting. I don’t want to fight. I want us all to be friendly. And maybe to eat some dessert items. Let’s all eat some dessert items!


        • 2 September 2012 08:34

          It was indeed the wee hours, and I’m paying for it now with only 5 hours sleep. 😛

          Hear hear for the dessert items – can there be tiramisu? I love tiramisu!


          • 2 September 2012 15:00

            YES! Me, too, it’s one of my favorite desserts of all time! There is very little that can’t be fixed by a good tiramisu!


  4. 3 September 2012 09:30

    I think we both know who is to blame here … Marketing.


  5. 5 September 2012 19:49

    haha ‘but’-face.

    i have serious thought on this, but you’ll have to just imagine i have shared them. my brain is currently on go-slow (or, more go-slow than usual)


  6. 5 September 2012 22:37

    I thought of this post today when I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Romney – Believe in America”

    That is all I can say on this topic. I have trained my brain to automatically shut down at the very mention of anything political. All I can think about right now is cute images of kittens.


    • 6 September 2012 05:32

      That sounds really efficient. Plus it must really cut down the stress from actually reading and processing all the insulting and patronising political messages. Bonus points for having trained you’re brain to substitute politics with kittens; that would relieve you of any left-over stress for sure.


  7. 9 September 2012 20:21

    You have it right that patriotism is a distraction from politics, and we see that it has worked in lgalaviz’ case. The people who are disgusted with flag-waving are exactly the ones who OUGHT to be involved in politics. Remember Plato: “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

    In other news, I once browsed a forum where people were trading military marches and was surprised at what a large canon of marches the Finns have (many on YouTube). I asked whether anyone ever marches to the intermezzo of the Karelia Suite, and no one answered. That’s gotta be one of the best bits of march-type music I’ve run across.

    Doesn’t everybody want to kill Russians after hearing that?


    • 9 September 2012 21:49

      Ooh! Edgy! Don’t you know the Russians are our friends now?

      Anyway, I’ve got no confidence in us ever achieving anything even remotely resembling true democracy, and don’t really believe that any human is capable of governing other humans. Which, I guess, makes me kind of an anarchist, although I prefer the term technocrat: I think we still got a chance if we were to give up all the power and hand it over to the machines. After all, they are our friends too.


  8. Aino permalink
    21 November 2012 22:05

    So, I have read another one of your smoothly crafted and intriguing posts. The political and personal currents moving masses are, of course, always of interest.

    However, one thing is unclear: the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Anyone who has a political standing also has some degree of admiration for a certain way of life, a certain set of values. This is the outset of patriotism. For example, I have nothing against other ways of life, but an admiration of the Nordic societies due to their principles of solidarity (high taxes and good public service) and equality (top nations for equality between the sexes, for example).

    Nationalism, on the other hand, feeds on the notion that some ethnic heritage or culture is superior to other cultures and should thus be reveered by others. This is the aggressive approach that gives rise to bigots and tempts discrimination.


    • 22 November 2012 08:09

      Thanks for you comment (and hi Aino, nice to see you here!).

      Yes, you’re right: there’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism (I’ve addressed nationalism in a different post: Why It’s Time To Kill Off Nationalism). And of course it’s ok to feel proud about who you are and where you live. But there’s only a small step from feeling proud to becoming prejudiced, and it requires hard and continuous work to counter that. Tribe pride has a natural tendency to degenerate into hatred of ‘the others’ (something I brought up in The Economy of Racism). There seems to be an evolutionary tendency to let the conscious parts of the brain switch off and leave the limbic system in charge (as mentioned in The Limbic Society).


      Man, I’ve really written quite a few posts on this subject, haven’t I? Almost seems like some kind of obsession.


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